By Kirra Grimes

THE long-awaited redevelopment of the Cowes Cultural and Community Centre is finally moving ahead, with Bass Coast Shire Council committing $19 million to begin the process of demolishing and rebuilding the facility next year.

The demolition and new build option was endorsed, over the previously preferred option of retrofitting and expanding the existing building, at last Wednesday’s Ordinary Council Meeting at Grantville.

The meeting saw councillors vote in support of allocating $19 million funding in the draft 2020/21 and 2021/22 budgets, with $15 million from new borrowings and $4 million from Council reserves, and a commitment to “explore partnerships with other tiers of government to seek grant funding to deliver the project”.

Island Ward Crs Stephen Fullarton, Pamela Rothfield and Michael Whelan voiced strong support for the new plan of action ahead of the vote, with Cr Fullarton saying he was “thrilled to see it taking steps” and Cr Rothfield calling it a “fabulous resolve”.

“People don’t realise how hamstrung we were with the first design option – we would’ve been forced to shoehorn people and things into it that didn’t fit.

“It’s wonderful to think now we can just raze the darn building and get everybody what they want,” Cr Rothfield said.

Cr Whelan said the community of Cowes had been “pushing for decades” to replace the “tired” and “dysfunctional” cultural centre building, and that the new design would allow for significant trees – which he called “a big issue in Cowes” – to be retained at the site, among other benefits.

“It’s a good time to go to the market for funding and it’ll help the economy of Bass Coast. It’s great; it’s exciting; let’s get the hell on with it,” he said.

Les Larke and Julian Brown were the only two councillors not to support the plan, both of them abstaining from the vote.

Crs Larke and Brown both questioned the allocation of such a significant sum of Council funds well in advance of next year’s budget discussions, especially given a motion for footpath funding was lost earlier in the very same meeting on the grounds of the “proper budget process” needing to be followed.

“I’m confused to say the least,” said Cr Larke, while Cr Brown called for “consistency” in funding decisions.

“This is the single most expensive item we’ve had in front of us in this council term,” Cr Brown said.

“If the proper process is to go through budget deliberations, surely you’d do that in this case as well.”

Addressing Cr Larke and Cr Brown’s objections, Bass Coast Shire CEO Ali Wastie said Council’s long-term financial plan already included a gross budget of $20 million for the cultural centre redevelopment, and that it was only a change in the “funding mix” that was up for debate.

In a statement following the Council meeting, Mayor Cr Brett Tessari got on the front foot of any community backlash against the Cultural Centre progressing whilst other long-awaited projects – most notably a proposed Phillip Island aquatic centre – remained at a standstill.

“An aquatics centre for Phillip Island remains a top advocacy priority for Council and we will continue to request funding support from State and Federal Governments,” Cr Tessari said.

“We are in the process of confirming and securing the site for a future aquatics centre and we have funding proposed in the 2020/21 Budget for the design of this aquatics centre.

“We need to first secure the land and complete a master plan for the site before funding the construction,” he said.

The Cowes Cultural Centre redevelopment is part of Bass Coast Shire Council’s Cowes Activity Centre Plan (2015) and reflects strategic intent to create a “legacy project” in the centre of Cowes.

According to Council, the Cultural Centre has been “placed ahead” of other community projects that still require planning, design and engagement, such as the aquatics centre, because it is “at a stage where it is ready to be built”.